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Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Chinese engagement in African agriculture is not what it seems

In December 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping flew into South Africa for the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation with great fanfare. There were lots of announcements about prospective investments across Africa. Agriculture featured prominently. But what is the real story of China in Africa on the ground, beyond the hype? As Deborah Brautigam’s investigative research has so effectively shown, the assumptions about China’s role in Africa are often not borne out in reality. The level of investment and linked aid flows are much lower than the high numbers sometimes touted; the numbers of imported Chinese workers are much lower than often suggested; the areas of land “grabbed” for investment are small compared to the vast areas identified by some. And, as Brautigam’s recent book shows, Africa will not be feeding China or China feeding Africa anytime soon. We set about finding out what was happening on the ground. Working with African, Chinese and European colleagues, our team investigated Chinese engagements in agriculture in four countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. All have featured prominently as priorities for Chinese investment and aid. Our just-completed project is reported in a new open access special issue of the journal World Development. So what exactly has been going on? This proved surprisingly difficult to find out. The data on land acquisition, investment flows and aid projects is limited and confusing. It often doesn’t add up. Ghost projects are listed that never happened, and others are missed out. Our original idea of doing a simple geomapping exercise based on available data was quickly abandoned. Instead, we had to triangulate between multiple sources to find out what was happening where. Certainly there is a great deal going on, and the Chinese presence in Africa is important. The Chinese role in agriculture – in terms of business investment, technology transfer, demonstration efforts, training and more – is growing, and shaping perceptions.

Source: How We Made it In Africa